Jarl – Hyperacusis

Jarl CD – Hyperacusis CD Zoharum 2021

The long-standing project of Eric Jarl sees a continuation of his sonic explorations within experimental industrial and dark ambient spheres. The subsequent result is the generation of gloomy yet animated soundscapes where the tonality of the organic and the clinical merge and intertwine. Given the instrumental focus of Jarl’s recordings, there is an immediately recognisable amorphous approach to composition and sound construction. This means that rather than the broader sound and approach significantly changing between albums the devil is in the sonic detail.

With reference to this new album’s title, it refers to a medical condition of a reduced tolerance to sound, which can be caused by aging or exposure to loud noise, while 50% of cases are also noted in combination with a psychiatric disorder. Obviously, this amounts to an extremely suitable theme context to frame the album. So while on face value the tone is quite minimal, the sonics are extremely active and varied, ranging from pulsing clinical tones and other elements which seem rooted in organic generated sources. Likewise, apart from its outwardly apparent minimalism, the two lengthy soundscapes are extremely detailed and active, building to sonic peaks based on shrill and invasive drones. The widescreen sonic production functions to highlight each of the multiple tonal elements, which are cleanly and clearly separated, while a broader ebb and flow technique and vaguely rhymical undercurrent drive the pieces forwards.

Although by now most should be well versed in the general sonic world of Jarl, Hyperacusis is a further exploration and refinement of that approach and illustrates how expertly crafted Jarl material is. As such. the sound waveform illustrations which adorn the cover of the six-panel digipack is a clever yet simple visualisation of the sonics found herein.

Gruntsplatter – Dowsing In The Cancer Lands

Gruntsplatter – Dowsing In The Cancer Lands CD Crionic Mind 2021

The last full-length Gruntsplatter album was issued way back in 2005, and apart from some compilation collections dating from 2015 and 2020 respectively, 2021 has seen some renewed activity from Scott Candey’s main project, as well as his label Crionic Mind. Noting that I came across Grunsplatter from their early days of activity in the late 1990’s, Scott always excelled and blending sounds from disparate underground genres such as dark ambient, noise and death industrial, yet combining these elements in his own unique way. As is then illustrated on Dowsing In The Cancer Lands this broader approach has not altered and still remains the core of his sound.

From the opening moments of the album, molasses think waves of industrial-grade dark ambience abound, further combined with noise-infused drones, providing an excellent indication of what is to play out over the following 12 tracks/ 70 minutes. A suffocating claustrophobia remains a constant mood which is threaded throughout, while sonic detailing and a meticulous approach to the laying of the multitude of its sounds elements also characterises proceedings. As such buzzing drones, mechanical churn and radioactive bluster form a bedrock of sorts. Added to this are higher-pitched tonal shards which slash through thick inky black soot clouds, while in other segments extremely minimal rhythms and muted doom addled melodious elements appear and recede. Scarlet Quarry manages to then stand apart however thanks to the lone melancholic violin which floats above a roiling tonal mass. The album mastering by Thomas Garrison is also noteworthy has also given the sound significant presence and bulk without being overblown or losing depth and separation of sound layers.

As is clearly on display here Scott is clearly not seeking to reinvent Grunsplatter’s sound. Rather this new album builds upon what has come before and plays out as an expertly crafted and surprising vital sounding recording. This is then the sort of release which is best appreciated as an album in its entirety, rather than singling out specific tracks. A cleanly designed and suitably darkly grey-hued 6-panel digipack rounds out the physical presentation.

Cloister Recordings cassette batch 2021

Subklinik – Neuroskizm MC Cloister Recordings 2021

The long-standing death industrial/ death ambient project Subklinik returns with a new four track tape, where the featured material heavily slanted toward a death ambient sound. A constant element found across the tape are the low brooding synth layers which ebb forwards in various atonal patterns. Sonic variation is then provided with windswept textures, muted ritualised beats, lamenting chants, wailing horns and semi-burred dialog samples etc. However, the shortest track Pulverise stands out substantially for the rest with its employment of a rudimentary drum machine beat, which when coupled with angular stabs of sound reminds of the early pivotal phase of SPK. The remaining three tracks then have greater consistency, being expertly crafted and sonically restrained in capturing a tone of creeping dread. An all-round strong tape.

Lust Fist – Forflatning MC Cloister Recordings 2021

Forflatning is the follow up to the debut tape Kropper Uten Mellomrom (reviewed here), which showcases a further five tracks of no-frills but absolutely on point European styled power electronics. The title opening track is a brooding instrumental and features a sample commenting on the current ills of society by referencing “moral starvation”. The following track then edges things up a notch with multi-layered caustic loops and wavering modulations, with the shredded megaphone vocals being semi-buried in the mix. The Birth Of A New Man Regenerated Through Labour opts for a gloomy cinematic edge, and feature the flange processed and over-saturated vocals which were such a standout element of the debut. To then make reference to my review of the debut, it highlighted that tape: ‘deftly balances aggression with a sense of lurking menace’, which is equally applicable here. Yet perhaps there is an elevated attention to sonic detailing as well as tonal variation between each of the tracks on display. Without doubt Lust Fist again strongly impress on their new release.

DAYOFWRATH – And The World Will Perish In Flames MC Cloister Recordings 2021

As I understand it DAYOFWRATH is a new solo project which has risen from the ashes of the defunct Barcelona based ritual ambient/ death industrial project DE·TA·US·TO·AS. Therefore, based on general similarities in sound, this new project can be viewed as a follow on from the earlier project (final DE·TA·US·TO·AS release reviewed here). Four tracks feature on the tape, where the lead off track Voidhanger very much wears its Trepaneringsritualen influence on its sleeve. Heavily pounding ritual percussion drives the track forwards, coupled with gruff invocation-based vocals, while a black metal tremolo riffed guitar line is relegated to the background. A similar tone and instrument construct is featured on Imperfection And Oblivion, but the overt forward drive is paired back slightly to brooding pace. The programmed and almost industrial-techno beat of The Warior’s Pilgrimage functions to give DAYOFWRATH’s sound a more individual slant, and which continues on the final track Death To The World. Here the black metal riffed guitars are brought to the fore and coupled with further pounding rhythmic programming to create an anthemic track with undercurrent of a ritualised rhythmic sway. As an overall comment the driving ritual death industrial mood remains the central focus, and regardless of the obvious influence, the use of the tremolo riffed guitars and programming functions sets DAYOFWRATH apart. For a formal debut this is a very impressive tape.

raison d’être ‎– Daemonum

raison d’être ‎– Daemonum CD Cyclic Law 2021

Three years on from 2018’s Alchymeia, raison d’être ‎continues the journey into the inner space of ones’ own subconscious ego, as described within the promo blurb: ‘With Daemonum raison d’être scrutinizes the secrets of the Shadow; the Anima/Animus archetypes and the manifestation of them as a Soul image. By learning to listen for the voice of our subconscious self, we can call that voice our Daemon, our internal genius that provide guidance, we can find hidden potential within ourselves’.

Given that Daemonum also marks three decades of activity for Peter Andersson’s main project, by now it is quite reasonable to have a strong sense of what to sonically expect from a raison d’etre album. Thus upon initial listens this new album feels very much to be a logical extension of the sound and approach of Alchymeia, where the six lengthy tracks again illustrate the slow pacing and evolution across the album’s 74 minutes. Equally, many of the expected elements are to found, such as: the deeply contemplative and achingly melancholic drones, the sublime choral laments and vocal chants, the catatonic chimes, the sporadic tolling of church bells and catacombic bass tones etc. However, of the rougher scraping metallic tonal elements which raison d’être often relies, while these are sporadically present, the tonal timbre has been pushed into the background and not as overly prominent this time around. Yet to also focus on further differences, Daemonum includes a greater prominence of contemporary classical elements such as: the abstract orchestral stings on the album opener The Implacable Portal and The Roots of Our Weakness; and the booming atonal horns on The Primordial Image. Further divergent elements also include the elevating mechanical churn at the core of Inside The Enantiodromia, while the final track Daemonium prominently stands out from the rest, based on its central echoed/ringing piano note strikes and separate minimalist mourning ivory melody.

Apart from the album’s six main tracks, there is a special edition which contains a companion album Daemoniacum which delivers a further six tracks over a 40-minute span. Conceptually it is described as thus: ‘Think of Daemoniacum as some sort of anti-polarized version of Daemonum, as if Daemonum was haunted and possessed by a demon. As if the daemon inside is turned into a demonic creature because the host becomes obsessed by the demon. As if the Anima/Animus was intruded and molested or rejected and deformed, infecting the host, causing a different and repressed output. Daemoniacum is the album manifested by the demons’. Based on this description, perhaps the resulting sonic form is not as dark, ‘demonic’ or even chaotic as might be expected. Rather the sound is comparable as a general sonic extension to the Daemonum tracks, albeit here the compositions are slightly mellower overall and on the shorter and succinct side at around seven minutes each. Although perhaps not reaching the same lofty heights as the main album tracks, Daemoniacum is far from being second rate material either and is well worth the listen for all long-term fans.

Metaphorically speaking Daemonum encapsulates a sound which sonically articles dimly lit and claustrophobic underground passages which sporadically given way to soaring cathedral ceiling spaces. Equally the towering heights and crushing depths of the soundscapes hint at the psychological knife’s edge separating redemption or damnation of ones’ own psyche/ego. To not put too much of a point on it Daemonum is again another standout showcase of Peter Andersson’s skill in evoking and composing his profoundly emotive sound-works. Daemonum is available in the standard CD or 2xLP set, or as the special edition with the supplementary album Daemoniacum as a 2xCD or 3xLP set.

Svenska Likbrännings Föreningen ‎– Likvaka

Svenska Likbrännings Föreningen ‎– Likvaka MC Cloister Recordings 2021

Being a new Swedish project the chosen moniker translates to ‘Swedish Cremation Association’, which provides a fairly apt indication of the muted death industrial and dark ambient sonics found herein, delivered in a very recognisable Nordic vein from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s (i.e. Lille Roger, early Brighter Death Now, Archon Satani, early Mz.412 etc).

Shimmering textures and ashen toned synth lines provide elongated muted semi-melodious elements around which random thuds, sporadic clangs, mangled vocal eruptions and guttural chants abound. On selected tracks the catacomb ambiences sees the clanging tones and thudding elements coalesce into forward rolling rhythmic structures. As for the general tone of the production, it is muffled yet equally thick and sonically overblown, which is a typical aspect of this sort of material, and therefore adding to the general dank charm on display. Variations on the above sonic parameters ultimately play out over the span of the eight tracks, and where the translated track titles suitable match the sonics, such as: Meat On The Pathologist’s Table; Death Redeems; and Ethanol / Glycerin fixation. A specifically notably track is Embalming Hunger, as it stands apart based on its rolling martial toned beat and grimly grinding synths which gives a clear nod to Mz.412.

While the original digital version of this release was issued on Nordvargr’s label 205 Recordings in late 2020, Cloister Recordings have given this a limited pressing on tape in an edition of 100 copies. In its physical edition the J-card has been purposefully aged and distressed and housed in an old scratch up 1980’s cassette case to suitably match the featured music. So, while certainly not turning the chosen style on its head, this is still an excellent and very enjoyable tape without sounding cynically retro or structurally formulaic. A project to watch with keen interest.

Den Sorte Død – Den Sorte Død

Den Sorte Død – Den Sorte Død LP Cyclic Law 2021

Den Sorte Død are a (Swedish?) duo, which is a collaborative project of two other solo synth-based projects, namely Offermose and Angst. This self-titled album is the fourth release from the project since 2017.

Being broadly bracketed under an ambient synth/dungeon synth descriptor, it is perhaps important to place Den Sorte Død within the context of the current dungeon synth contemporaries. With the recent rise in the dungeon synth genre, clearly there are a select few who are inspired by and deliver a decent homage to the general style/sound ‘Era 1’ Mortiis, with Shadow Dungeon and Old Tower being notable examples. Yet the greater majority of newer dungeon synth project I have heard seem to have completely forgone the gloomy and melancholic aspects of the style, and instead opted to elevate a twee/jolly/whimsical medieval fantasy realm sound, where the all-important thread of obscurity and darkness is absent. Consequently the greater majority of current dungeon synth material does not appeal to me at all.

Then stepping into the fold is Den Sort Dod, who stand completely apart from the above observation. While they can be generally tagged with the dungeon synth label, equally they have looked further afield for sonic inspiration, which notably is the synth sound of the ‘Berlin School’, such as Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze etc. To then close this loop back with the origins of the dungeon synth genre (which is broadly agreed to have started from Era 1 Mortiis), it is interesting to note that both Mortiis and other second wave Norwegian Black Metal musicians also namechecked the same Berlin School artists.

This is perhaps a longwinded way to put Den Sorte Død in context, but it is clearly an important one. Den Sorte Død sound is one that draws far more heavily from the Berlin School sound, where the dreamy, spacey and psychedelic sound stands strong, but which has then been twisted towards dungeon synth territories through a dark, gloomy and obscure tone. Eight tracks feature across just short of 40 minutes, given the slow-paced instrumental tracks span from three to eight minutes each. Minimalist and darkly atmospheric synths are layered in forms of sustained tones and melodious loops, where occasionally a thread of a slow rhythmic beat is included. Det Tabte Slag is a standout with its central dour organ melody and driving underpinning cyclic melody. Equally the title track is another noteworthy piece with a driving mid paced percussive pulse around which the synth melodies twist and weave in an elevating and semi-triumphant manner.

Personally, I have appreciated this bleakly melancholic album from Den Sorte Død over many repeated listens, and one of its greatest strengths is that it demonstrates a project that draws upon its influences and twists them into new and engaging forms. Available on gatefold vinyl or CD, whichever is the preference for physical format.

Beckahesten – Tydor

Beckahesten – Tydor CD Cyclic Law 2021

Swedish trio Beckahesten have quickly followed up their 2020 debut album Vattenhålens Dräpare (reviewed here), and based on its general style and sound, as well as overall design aesthetic, this is very much a companion album to the debut.

Yet apart from the obvious similarities to the debut, one notable aspect of Tydor is the greater elevation and stronger focus on its Nordic folk elements, particularly evidenced by the chanted and emotivity sung lead vocals of Viktoria Rolandsdotter which has being brought the fore on many of Tydor’s nine tracks. Equally the accompanying musical backing then ranges from dusky soundscapes to more folk based songs, but all broadly framed around a variety of tonal elements including: deep melodious drones, spartan ritual chimes, heathen percussive thrum, folk tinged violins, guttural chants/throat singing, and windswept field recordings. Thus, regardless if a piece forms a sparse soundscape, or otherwise delivers a song focused composition, the consistently evoked atmosphere forms an intense twilight mood and archaic folklore driven sound.

At 48 minutes in run time, this is a longer and more substantial album than the debut. But whereas I described debut as: ‘blending the darkly gothic bleakness of mid 1990s Cold Meat Industry-style dark ambience with a more archaic-edged ritual ambient sound’, here the ‘CMI styled sound’ has been reduced and duly replaced with a central focus on the heathen and folkloric aspects. Yet even with that said, this observation is perhaps overall ‘splitting hairs’, as there is an equal amount to appreciate here under the broader banner of Beckahesten’s ritual ambient folk sound. Available on vinyl or CD in a six panel/double gatefold digi-sleeve.

Sa Bruxa – Gnosis

Sa Bruxa – Gnosis CD Dunkelheit Produktionen

Gnosis functions as my introduction to Sa Bruxa, yet ten or so releases have already been issued since 2016 on various formats (digital, CD and cassette). But in then noting that the project name translates to ‘the witch’ in Sardinian, it provides a strong indication that there is likely to be a ritualised sound at play. This turns out to be correct and being self-described as ‘hexed electronics’, where there is a darkly archaic ritual ambient/industrial timbre to proceedings.

The album features nine distinct but untitled compositions, each around six to ten minutes each. With a slow unfurling of its ritual sonic tapestries, Gnosis displays substantive musical ideas and sonic detailing across the album’s 65 minutes. Each distinct piece is frames around a variety of tonal elements, variously including: dank subterranean drones, bleak but strangely unidentifiable field recordings, tribal rhythmic elements, ritual percussive clatter, and on occasion abstracted garbled/chanted vocals and dour rudimentary synth melodies. Thus, with the core of the material seemingly being framed around seething field recordings and coupled within real instrumentation and occasional vocals, it pushes the overall tone well away from a cleanly produced studio sound, and one which at times gives a slightly more modern nod to the ritual sonic spheres of the cult Nekrophile Rekords roster.

In an overarching sense there both clear character and atmosphere at a play on Gnosis, which makes for a rather sullen experience given its darkly claustrophobic and soot-infused pitch-black atmospheres. Thus with reference to text on the digi-pack which states: ‘Gnosis is a journey into occult emotional soundscapes, articulated in ten nameless rituals’, rather than being a statement of bluff and bluster it is a very spot on and accurate description of what the album delivers.

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations MC Hypnosmord Förlag / Styggelse Tapes / The AJNA Offensive 2021

As alluded to by the title, this tape is inspired by Sigvard Thurneman who was a somewhat obscure Swedish occultist, serial killer, and leader of the criminal-esoteric society ‘Den Magiska Cirkeln’ during the 1930s. There are various oddities associated with the case (more than can be explained here), that warrant further exploration for the interested. It is worth noting that this tape is a companion of sorts to a book just released in English by The Ajna Offensive, Manhunter: The Story of the Swedish Occultist and Serial Killer Thurneman. As for the project Hypnosmord, this seems to be a collective of musicians where the main performer Hans K. Styggelsen is aided by Gammalsjul, Sten Röse, Hector Meinhof, Brynolf Ledung, and Siegfried Holst. The recordings on this tape features two 30-minute compositions, which function as sinister improvisational piano movements for the shadowy twilight hours.

Although the liner notes indicate that the hour runtime contains five suites, the material flows together continuously on each side of the tape. The overall atmosphere is distant, obscure, and forlorn; slow moving, minor keyed piano melodies float through the twilight ether, and on occasion devolve into sections where the playing becomes mere sparse atonal stabs at the ivory keys. Apart from the piano element there are scant backing elements of what sounds like the crackling of a gramophone needle, creaking wood, echoed bass thuds, passages of Swedish spoken vocals, unintelligible mournful wailings, distant vaguely rhythmic elements, and a variety of other unidentifiable haunting tones with a sinister-edged musique concrete sound. When all of these aspects are brought together with the spacious and reverb-tinged keys, it evokes a vision of a grand piano being played in a crumbling abandoned mansion, where the psychic barrier between the waking and spirit world is slowly dissolving in response to the improvised musical evocations.

Being very much music for late night solo appreciation and deep contemplation, this is an excellent underground obscurity of sinister spectral music. Limited to a mere 141 copies, a double-sided multi-panel insert rounds out the visual presentation.

Beckahesten – Vattenhålens Dräpare

Beckahesten Vattenhålens Dräpare CD Cyclic Law 2020

Sweden’s Beckahesten is a recently formed trio of musicians: Peo Bengtsson, Per Åhlund, and Viktoria Rolandsdotter. Blending the darkly gothic bleakness of mid 1990s Cold Meat Industry-style dark ambience with a more archaic-edged ritual ambient sound, Beckahesten certainly surprise with their debut album. The promo blurb also provides a glimpse of its tonal aesthetic through the following description: ‘Their sound lingers within the shadow lands of ritual and folklore where solemn harmonies and rhythms intertwine with lyrical poetry, becoming rites and omens. Taking its name from an ancient folk tale of a horse that takes children onto its back to then bring them to a nearby lake and drown them.’

Opening track Förnimmelsen immediately brings shades of the classic sound of Aghast, with whispered vocals and shifting icy soundscapes, albeit here with a slightly elevated sub-orchestral tone. The following track Ropet abruptly shifts to an almost doom drone texture due to its thick affecting bass; yet, the sweeping synth pads and chanted male vocal arcs provide a clear Nordic ritual ambient underpinning. The pairing of Skuggan and Dödsfålen deviates further, where the sublime shadowy soundscapes and twilight ambience are driven forwards with slow ritual percussion against which the sparse and achingly subtle vocals of Victoria are delivered as chants and invocations to twilight omens. Hotet is the final and longest track at over 10 minutes, a solemn evolving track of throbbing drones, ritual chimes, sweeping synths, and the commanding sung/chanted vocals of Victoria, while the rhythmic musical backing elevates to cresting crescendos before receding again.

This debut album is clearly not a lengthy one at a mere 36 minutes, but it packs significant impact into that timespan, with a sound that is both individualistic and aware of its influences. The album in its physical form is available on CD, or vinyl if that is preferred.